I was sitting in my balcony, feeding my year-old the parantha I had made with "extra ghee" for her, when a sparrow came and pecked on the plate. Before I could react, it flew away. I pegged away at feeding my daughter again but the aerial attack was a reason enough to distract her. Giving myself to her whims, I joined her in admiring the bottlebrush tree on which the bird had now perched.
The tree held a nest in which three fledglings were waiting eagerly for their food. Their white, grizzly stomachs glowed in the pleasant winter sun. Mother sparrow was putting small morsels into their mouths and the chicks, with their mouths open, were trying to compete for feed.
The visual delight filled my heart with the fragrance of the memories of the times when I would study in my lawns, fuelling myself with sesame sweets and groundnuts. One day while studying, the sound of "tut-tut" attracted my attention. A squirrel under my table was holding a groundnut. It first ripped its brown rind and after removing the pink peel meticulously started to nibble at it.
I liked the similar body language of squirrels and human beings in the course of snacking on groundnuts. It seemed the squirrel had also invited her birdie friends to the feast, as a mynah, a sparrow, and a beautiful winged guest with a red glossy beak now relished the sumptuous banquet.
Sitting there all day long, I would listen to the pleasant bird sounds. The twitter of a mynah and the high-pitched squeaks of parrots gave me joy. My father would feed the pigeons early in the day. If he was delayed for any reason, the birds would start pecking on the roof, with an aggression that betrayed impatience for the first meal of the day.
This also reminds me of "Mataji", which is what my family called her on the lines of "cow is our mother". It had beautiful, sooted eyes, would moo at the main gate and go away after eating her chapati. In contrast to the pigeons that landed early morning, she was patient, maybe because she was "Mataji".
Today, when the flat culture of metropolitan cities has made the once common birds and animals a rare sight, there remain few pleasant moments to stumble upon in busy lives. With the concrete jungles mushrooming everywhere, our progeny would see mynahs and squirrels only in Google images, and would have to go on to the internet to prepare even a small write-up on "cow". I wish our age-old relationship with billi mausi and chanda mama doesn't become a thing of the past.
The onus of connecting our children to nature is on us. Let's begin by taking baby steps in the direction. The simplest workable idea is to start putting a water bowl for birds in our balconies and asking the children to take care of it. Give them an opportunity to have the feel-good moments of life that we still cherish.